A Shadow by R.K. Narayan
In A Shadow by R.K. Narayan we have the theme of grief, letting go, struggle, connection, loss, acceptance, loneliness and memories. Taken from his Malgudi Days collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Narayan may be exploring the theme of letting go. Both Sambu and his mother have difficulty letting Sambu’s father go. Though Narayan never tells the reader how long it is since Sambu’s father passed away Sambu and his mother still nonetheless have difficulty in moving on from the past. Which is understandable as the loss of a parent or husband can be a struggle for an individual. It also appears as though Sambu is trying to overcome the loss of his father and the struggle he feels about his father’s death by returning continually to the cinema to see his father’s last film. The reader aware that Sambu likes to see his father on the cinema screen. It provides Sambu with a link or connection to his father. Even though the reality is that all Sambu has is memories of his father. Regardless of this the images of his father on the cinema screen help Sambu to forget that his father has died. It is as though Sambu can forget about his loss for a small period of time when he is looking at his father acting on the screen.
It is also interesting that Sambu’s mother faints on sight of her husband on the screen as this suggests that she is unable to fully process what is happening. Though the film is fiction the reality of seeing her husband on the screen is too much for Sambu’s mother. She is likening events in reality and at home with Sambu’s father to events that are happening on the screen. Just as Sambu is making a connection each time he sees his father on the screen. So too is Sambu’s mother. However Sambu’s mother does not feel the joy that Sambu feels when he sees his father. If anything Sambu’s mother is distraught hence her fainting. It might also be important that Sambu wants to see the film twice a day as not only does this again suggest that Sambu wants to connect with his father but it also further highlights the fact that Sambu may be having difficulty or struggling with letting his father go. As to why Sambu’s mother avoids the cinema is also interesting as there is a sense that she is unable to accept that her husband is dead. When she does go to the cinema the reader feels that she is doing so more for Sambu’s sake than for her own.
The fact that there are so few main characters in the story could also be important as Narayan could be using the lack of characters in the story to place an emphasis on just how lonely Sambu and in particular his mother may be after Sambu’s father’s death. Apart from having each other there does not seem to be anybody else that Sambu or his mother can talk to about Sambu’s father. Sambu does talk to a classmate about his father’s film but his class mate shows no interest. Which could suggest that Sambu apart from having his mother is very much alone when it comes to grieving his father’s death. For this reason the film takes on a more important meaning for Sambu. It is all he has of his father apart from the pictures his mother has on the walls in the family home. If anything Sambu wants to spend every waking hour with his father. Even if all he has is a moving image of his father projected onto a screen.
The end of the story is also interesting as Narayan manages to bring in a slice of reality into the story when Sambu begins to cry. It is as though Sambu has had a moment of realisation and realises that what he is seeing in the cinema is not real. That his father is truly gone. Though this moment of realisation may be difficult for Sambu at the end of the day it is helpful to him. Though he doesn’t know it yet. It means that Sambu is able to move on to the next step in grieving the loss of his father. He now has the opportunity, though painful, to accept that his father is no longer with him. The thrill that Sambu got from seeing his father on the screen has faded with reality taking over. No longer is Sambu able to deny to himself that his father is dead. The reality that Sambu wished to escape into, watching his father on the screen, cannot compensate him for how he now feels. However it is noticeable that both Sambu and his mother are together at the end of the story. Which may symbolically suggest that both Sambu and his mother will continue to be there for one another as they grieve the loss of Sambu’s father.